History Writing Assignment Rubrics

Posted on by Vut

Written Assignments

The Museum Response Paper template can be used as an assignment once or twice during the semester as a way to a) have your students undertake a concise written exercise that b) asks them to look closely at one object (or two if you’d like them to compare and contrast) and c) also asks them to engage with the museum or gallery space to make them aware of the cultural context in which they encounter objects in institutions. This template can be “set up” in class using the museum visit videos and Museum Observation Prompts handout.

This Formal Analysis Assignment provides some great ideas on how to guide students through formal analysis reminding them that the exercise is about looking and analysis and not research and analysis. Students are reluctant to trust their own eyes and their own opinions. For formal analysis papers they often automatically go to an outside source in order to further bolster the assertions they make in their papers. Kimberly Overdevest at the Grand Rapids Community College in Grand Rapids, Michigan has had great success with these prompts.

To research or not to research? Asking your students to undertake a research paper as part of the art history survey can be a tricky beast as the range of student experience with elements such as library research and bibliographic citations can be large and crippling. For most mixed-ability or required-credit survey classes, focusing on short papers with limited research allows you and the students to focus on finessing writing skills first. Always consider reaching out to the Writing Center on your campus – a staff member can usually make an in-class visit to tell your students about the range of services on offer which should include workshops and one-to-one appointments.

Presentations – either singly or in groups – can be a good way to have your students think about a class theme from a new angle. See the handout “How to give a great oral presentation,” which also contains a sample grading rubric so students understand instructor expectations as they prepare.



Writing Guides and Exercises

The “How To Write A Thesis” template is a useful handout for a class exercise post-museum visit, once students have picked their object and can think about what a thesis is and how to construct their own. As part of this in-class exercise, it might be useful to look at examples of previous students’ thesis statements on the Writing Examples PPTwhich includes anonymous examples of past museum response paper excerpts so students understand what a thesis statement, formal analysis paragraph, museum environment analysis, and concluding paragraph might look like (you can, of course, point out the merits and/or pitfalls of each example per your own teaching preferences).

Paper Style Guide handouts


Grading Rubrics

The Grading Rubric handouts can be given out in class and/or uploaded to your Bboard, and retooled to fit your objectives for the written assignment.

Grading student papers can be done the old fashioned way (your students hand you a paper copy) or through anti-plagiarism software such as SafeAssign (part of the Blackboard suite) or Turnitin.com (your school may have a license – find out who the Turnitin campus coordinator is for more details). There are ethical considerations to using anti-plagiarism software.

Formal Analysis Rubric Grid

Research Rubric Grid

For the past two years I have been using a grading rubric for writing assignments in all of my courses. In my first few years of teaching I was reluctant to consider using a rubric. I thought a rubric would place burdensome limits on my subjective leeway in assigning grades for writing. And wouldn’t a grading rubric more likely be used over in the College of Education or some other department where the faculty didn’t acquire the innate gift of instantly recognizing good writing like we historians attained in our graduate programs?

My experiences trying to grade undergraduate essays destroyed my skepticism about using rubrics. Today I have come not only to love using them but also to evangelize about their usefulness. First, using a grading rubric makes it clear for students what exactly will be evaluated in their essays and research papers. The rubric, which I provide as part of the course syllabus at the beginning of the semester, specifies which parts of their papers will be earning them their grade. Second, a rubric gives students valuable guidelines before and during the writing process. The rubric makes the expectations clear and gives students a chance to think about how their essay will be graded before they even begin writing. Third, once the assignment has been graded, a rubric indicates to the student what parts of their writing needs improvement while showing them what parts of their writing is adequate or even proficient. This allows students to focus on specific areas of their writing that need the most improvement. Finally, using a rubric has drastically reduced the amount of questions and complaints I receive after I return their graded assignments. When students complain about grades, my usual tactic is simply to explain to them why they deserved the grade they received. A grading rubric actually does this job for me.

I have included an image of the grading rubric I use for my upper-level history courses and research seminars. I invite your comments and suggestions. Do you use a rubric to grade writing assignments? What are the advantages and disadvantages?


October 16, 2013 in Uncategorized.
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